What Must be Established when Filing a Claim for Failure to Warn or Instruct in New Jersey
We have all seen warning labels on items we purchase and wonder, “Why did they put that on here? It’s common sense.” When the warnings on an iron include, “Don’t iron clothes while wearing them,” we are left scratching our heads. Still, manufacturers prefer to err on the side of caution because the state of New Jersey, since 1987 and the passing of the New Jersey Product Liability Act (NJPLA) has made manufacturers responsible for damage caused by improper warnings on their products that caused customers harm. Safe products made by manufacturers and sellers of those products must label them appropriately.
Required Warnings that Need to be Presented to Customers or Users
Items must have warnings about using their products correctly to keep from getting hurt. That information could include how to use the product. The instructions should contain any possible dangers even when the product is being used correctly and when it is not. Words such as “warning,” “danger,” or “caution” should be visible. The warnings must explain the safest way to use the product and how to avoid harm when the product is not used correctly.
Common Circumstances Around Warning Issues in NJ
Warning defects frequently lead to a lawsuit if a consumer proves that the product and the defective warning were what brought on their injuries. Situations such as a missing warning label, a label for another product, misplacement of a warning label that makes it too hard to read, or font that is too small. Also, brands were in the wrong language or had many mistakes and were impossible to read. All of the above can support a lawsuit if the victim can prove that the defective warning and the product were the sources of their injuries.
The Chain of Possibilities for Who Can be Liable in a Failure to Warn Claim
The company that made the product (manufacturer), the company that delivered the product (distributor), or the company that sold the product (seller) could be held at fault if there was a failure to inform the consumer with adequate warnings, causing someone injury as a result. This failure to warn consumers can affect any of the three parts of the creation and distribution of the product. The party found liable is not necessarily responsible for causing the defect. Liability can fall on the defendant responsible for directly placing a defective item into the marketplace. This does not include casual sales such as an individual’s online account or personal yard sale.
Proving Fault in Strict Liability Cases
When a party is responsible for defective products or faulty manufacturing, the plaintiff need not prove fault or negligence. The manufacturer must establish trust between itself and its consumers, assuring their clients that they make products safe. A company that creates an effect that unintentionally causes harm is liable for resulting injury. To apply strict liability successfully, the plaintiff must show proof of injury, a direct correlation between what the defendant did or did not do that caused the damage, and that the defendant’s actions were reckless because they had control over the product.
Aspects Involved in a Failure to Warn Lawsuit in NJ
The plaintiff must show a chain of actions stemming from the defendant to the plaintiff in which harm was caused due to a missing, incomplete, or unclear warning that directly resulted in the plaintiff’s injury. A notice regarding the use of a product that is obvious to the user is unnecessary; however, warnings against using an item other than for its suited purpose should be included.
The plaintiff may claim that the manufacturer knew of the danger present in the product, had an obligation to warn consumers, and was negligent by not warning consumers of the threat related to the item causing an injury to consumers that could have been avoided.
Identifying Failure to Warn in Product Liability Cases
When a product does not have all of the warnings and instructions necessary to protect a consumer from any dangers of using it, it is a failure to warn. Signs must be immediately visible and conspicuous. Warning labels and owner’s manuals must come with the product and be written, either in words, symbols, or both. Neither the supplier nor the manufacturer must include warnings inherently like the product. For example, there is no need to put a sign that a pair of scissors are sharp.
Warnings can use familiar symbols, pictures, or words and clearly explain the potential dangers of using the product. The plaintiff will attempt to prove the warnings or instructions were missing, confusing, or incomplete. They must also prove that the product caused an injury even when properly used. If the plaintiff modified the product or was not used in an intended way, a successful claim is unlikely.
Frequently sellers and manufacturers will defend their positions by claiming that the warnings and instructions given were adequate. Still, a particular unknown mishap caused injury to the plaintiff. Strict liability law in New Jersey is crystal clear that the seller and the manufacturer are required to not only warn consumers about what is dangerous but not what could be dangerous under particular circumstances. This is their product, and they have a responsibility to know all facets of it therein.
Learning from a Previous Case: Seeley vs. Cincinnati Shaper Co.
John Scott Seeley sued his employer, Cincinnati Shaper Co., due to an accident that partially severed his hand. He was shaping metal sheets in a machine, and a sheet got stuck. He leaned in and stuck his hand to move the sheet, thereby bringing his hand stuck in the machine, crushing it, and losing part of his hand.
The shaping machine had been altered a great deal because it could be used for many purposes and the changes made the process easier. It had a safety cover on the power pedal, which, when closed, prevented the machine from operating, keeping it idle. Seeley claimed that it was the company’s fault for not training him enough, knowing the pedal was altered, and understanding the potential danger. The company shared all of the instructional material and warning posters to prevent workers from behaving recklessly and putting their hands in the machine while it was working.
Seeley did not win the case as the jury said there was no failure to warn, and the place of employment was not obligated to place the safety cover on the pedal as long as the proper warnings were posted. The plaintiff was negligent by not using reasonable caution.
Contact our Princeton NJ Failure to Warn Lawyers to Start Building Your Claim
Have you been injured by a product whose warnings weren’t clear, were missing, or insufficient? You need to contact a product liability lawyer right away, as proving failure to warn or provide proper instructions is a complicated task. You need someone familiar with the evidence required and how to engage with the right experts to have on your side to make things right. The big companies have lawyers on their side, and so should you.
At Cohen & Riechelson, our attorneys will stand up for your rights as we have passionately done for numerous clients in Hightstown, Monroe, Titusville, West Windsor, Trenton, and towns in Mercer County, Middlesex County, Somerset County, and throughout New Jersey. Call (609) 528-2596 for your free consultation, or fill out our convenient form for further assistance today. Let’s talk about your legal options.